Citizenship Act: Step towards Hindu Rashtra

Citizenship Act: Step towards Hindu Rashtra

Citizenship Amendment Bill

The Union government has got passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), 2019, with the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha discussing and passing it in a span of three days. In response, there is social unrest and violence in the North-East states and in other parts of the country. The Asom Gana Parishad Legislature Party (AGPLP) has urged the Centre to provide constitutional guarantees to protect and preserve the indigenous communities of the state. The biggest fear among the North-East states is that their indigenous communities will become lesser citizens in their own homelands.

The major opposition political parties have all criticised the Bill as being unconstitutional in spirit, and violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution. The only option left now for those opposed to the Bill is to knock on the doors of the Supreme Court. In brief, the CAB has the potential to effect a paradigm shift in the basis — from legal to religious – of Indian citizenship. However, the government is confident that the Bill will overcome any legal challenge. At this critical juncture, it is necessary to look into the politics being played by the BJP to push the agenda of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ by disenfranchising Muslims through NRC and consolidating Hindu votes through CAB.

NRC and CAB

The BJP’s election manifesto of 2014 proclaimed that “India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here.” The CAB is a step towards fulfilling this poll promise. The introduction and passing of the Bill has come close on the heels of Union Home minister Amit Shah’s announcement in the Rajya Sabha on November 20 that “The process of National Register of Citizens will be carried out across the country. No one, irrespective of their religion, need be worried. It is just a process to get everyone under the NRC.” However, the reality that has emanated from the NRC exercise in Assam depicts a different picture. More than 19 lakh people have been left out of the NRC drawn up under a Supreme Court-monitored exercise, and they include indigenous peoples, Muslims and Hindus.

Despite this counterproductive outcome, the party has seen the potential of NRC to help it consolidate the Hindu vote by extending it nation-wide. It thus envisions nullification of the Muslim vote in states where Muslims constitute a substantial portion of the population. The CAB is a way to do this by bringing in and settling Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Thus, the CAB is purely based on electoral calculation, which is part and parcel of the BJP’s Hindu Rashtra narrative. The CAB precisely enables the citizenship rights of those who are excluded under the NRC, except the Muslims. The NRC makes people stateless, the CAB provides statehood to all the non-Muslims among them.

The push for religion in the Citizenship Act can be traced back to the amendment to the citizenship rules in 2004 by the then NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The current BJP government, with its greater electoral legitimacy, is strengthening the same. The purposeful omission of the Muslim community from the list of refugee migrant communities reflects the intent and motivation of the Modi government. Exactly a year ago, the country was told that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be confined to Assam only. The CAB’s re-emergence needs to be understood from the perspective of the failure of NRC in Assam in terms of what the BJP desired from it and the consequences of that failure on the party’s electoral ambitions.

The politics of the BJP towards the Muslims community, both as ideology and in practice, can be seen in terms of policy statements and actions. To illustrate, according to an advisory circulated by the Ministry of Home Affairs, dated August 8, 2017, “Illegal migrants (Muslims) are more vulnerable for getting recruited by terrorist organizations. Infiltration (Muslims) from the Rakhine State of Myanmar into Indian territory, especially in recent years besides being a burden on the limited resources of the country, also aggravates the security challenges posed to the country.” This means that despite the secular principles enunciated as part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, the BJP government is not ready to give shelter to Muslim refugees. In this context, it is worth reiterating that India is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol and even today lacks a national policy framework for refugee protection. Another aspect of BJP’s majoritarian politics can be understood from the fact that it amended the rules of Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, and the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946, in 2015 itself, long before the passage of the CAB. The current tabled Land Policy of 2019 in Assam, too, has contentious provisions that are aimed at the Muslim community.

The BJP’s politics of identity and religion has effectively corroded the primacy of Parliament as seen from the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. Now, the CAB and NRC together disturb the basic structure of the Constitution, especially our secular identity. Importantly, it escalates the ethnic, identity and religious conflicts in the North-East states, as already evident.

The government is playing with constitutional values and morality. With the passage of the CAB, the BJP has exposed the full face of its majoritarian agenda at the cost of secularism and minority rights, especially those of Muslims and the indigenous communities of the North-East. The next stop of the BJP on this journey is Uniform Civil Code.

(The writer is PhD Fellow, Centre for Political Institutions, Governance and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru)

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